Where did the all the flowers go?

February 3, 2014 - Posted by Mickey Tortorelli

By Kirk Brierley

When I look at and listen to store floor staff these days, sometimes I am overwhelmed by the positive words, and other times I am a little saddened by what I hear and see. I feel as though the word “glamour,” sometimes falls below the waistline in the beauty industry. As a veteran of the cosmetic and fragrance business, to me this is sometimes a desperate shame, but of course, not a lost cause! 

Think about it -  there was a time not so long ago where the pride of being in the cosmetic industry was something that your clients could see and palpably feel. You were hand-picked by senior store management to represent a line and groomed to the nines before you went anywhere near the selling floor.  Not just groomed but lined-up and inspected to make sure that you were perfect. Hair was perfect. Nails were perfect. Clothes were perfect and the heels on your shoes were 3 inches high. Makeup was absolutely perfect and full makeup was the only look to have.  There was just no discussion.  We shone like highly polished pennies and were enormously proud of what we did. We were cinched, and taped and pinned, corseted, girdled, powdered and perfumed with the whole line of whatever the newest latest and greatest was and we loved every single second of the day. People would actually touch us to see if we were real.  We were live mannequins for our products and the customers were awed and they bought it.  They bought it all.

Customers would line up twenty deep at the counters to get the gift with purchases on the prestige lines and the stores would be converted from the top floor to the bottom with signs and banners trumpeting the latest elixir from the great houses. Fragrance launches were the stuff of legend.  Tables down the isles would be groaning under the weight of awe inspiring flower arrangements six feet high.  Top flight department stores looked like the opening scene from the movie “My Fair Lady” and public gasped in amazement as if they had been transported to another world that had been imagined for them by Cecil Beaton himself. The air was thick with tuberose, gardenia and hints of golden pears and champagne-like notes from the fragrances laced with wildly exotic aldehydic notes and we loved it.  Every day was like a movie…when the lights came on so did the show and the showmanship with well trained management orchestrating the waltz that was the cosmetic department.

Women drove a two hundred mile round trip to come to Simpson’s and Eaton’s flagship downtown stores and dressed for the day to do so.  Husbands patiently waited with silent children in the background as the ladies transformed themselves with the help of the best of the best choosing the creams and serums, the lotions and the potions, the powders and the paints coloured with the pigments of gemstones and ground insect wings which were brought to you on a tray as if you were a potentate from the East, Choosing a lipstick required three people. One to choose, one to apply and one to close the sale and put it in the bag.  When finished, all three would reaffirm that the choice was the best that could be made and the client wore the lipstick for the rest of her days or until the colour was, God forbid, discontinued.  It was such a show that if you were a junior makeup artist and had been given instruction by the senior expert, you were not, under any circumstances, allowed to even talk to the client you were applying makeup on. If you did, you were dismissed on the spot!

A lot has changed since then and I fear that this type of glamour and elegance has been lost, never to be seen again in the same way and certainly never in the same conspicuous amount and that is a tragedy that should not be. Stores have become cold and sterile like an operating room, devoid of the silks and satins and flowers that created the illusions that created the demand that made the profits. It’s really time to stop calling the customer to come in and start giving them something to come in to! Glamour is like food. People love it. They crave it to shore up their 9 to 5 lives! People want to be entertained! Even the worst of the Roman emperors knew that and they kept the Coliseum full!

It is up to us, the purveyors of the creams and potions to demand the perfection and glamour that the cosmetic department should be.  I am convinced that a little glamour and carefully calculated fluff makes the department relevant again and brings back that element of fantasy that truly is the cosmetic business.  I have seen it with my own eyes in the last little while…just a bunch of white lilies in an elegant vase will make any customer literally stop and smell the roses.  They are just amazed and delighted when they find out they’re real. 

Flowers in the beauty department.  Who ever would have thought?

Patricia Clare
April 13th, 2014
Oh my goodness...this article made me smile and have goosebumps thinking of the elegance of yesteryear of the Cosmetics industry. Such little touches go so far. Thank you for bringing it back to the forefront! xoxo
Sandra Shaw
May 1st, 2014
Oh you have brought back such memories. I used to work in downtown Toronto and would walk (in heels) many blocks to the Eaton's Centre on my lunch hour at least three times a week to check out all the different makeup counters to see what was new. I also had a co-worker who worked part-time at one of the makeup counters at Eaton's. You always knew the evenings she worked there. She would be dressed to the nines for her day job. Afternoon coffee breaks were spent touching up her manicure.
Thanks for the memories. You always inspire. We will now make room for fresh flowers on our counter. xo

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